Alcohol exposure and health services utilization in older veterans
The objective of this study was to determine if increased alcohol exposure is associated with greater use of health services among older veterans. A total of 129 older veterans (> or =65 years old), receiving longitudinal care in a Veterans' Administration primary care clinic, were followed retrospectively for up to 42 months. Subjects were screened at baseline for problem drinking with the CAGE or the quantity-frequency questions from the Alcohol Use Disorders Identification Test (QF-AUDIT), and stratified by exposure into three categories: abstainers, social drinkers, and problem drinkers. Outcomes included total outpatient clinic visits, laboratory tests, radiologic and other technologic procedures, as well as acute care hospitalizations. For all subjects (N = 129), no association was found between alcohol exposure and use of any outpatient services. Among CAGE-screened (n = 62) abstainers, social drinkers, and problem drinkers, significant differences were found in the median number of laboratory tests (7.3 vs. 3.4 vs. 7.1, P = 0.004) and hospitalizations (0.3 vs. 0.0 vs. 0.3, P = 0.001) per patient year of follow-up. No exposure-outcome associations were present, however, among QF-AUDIT-screened subjects (n = 67). We were unable to demonstrate a consistent relationship between alcohol exposure and health services utilization. The effects of alcohol on older veterans' use of health services varied with the method used to measure alcohol exposure. Additional studies are needed to determine whether multiple, or possibly new, measures can more precisely define the health effects of alcohol in older populations.